Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Four Generations

Well, yesterday's press conference went fairly well. County Councilmember Steve Silverman began by summarizing his proposed legislation. He then introduced fellow Councilmember Nancy Floreen, who has signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill. They represent 2 of the 3 votes on the Council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee which virtually guarantees the bill will receive a favorable hearing and be forwarded to the full County Council. A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for the evening of November 22.

Following Silverman and Floreen, were Bonnie Cullison (President of the MCEA, our local teachers' union), Robert Jepson (Associate Vice President of Adventist Health Care, our county's largest private employer) and myself. There were about 10 AIM leaders also present, along with 8 or so members of the press.

Silverman prefaced my introduction by recognizing AIM's ability to move on an issue by saying that "no other organization has done as much to address affordable and workforce housing issues in the county as Action In Montgomery." He went on to credit us with making affordable housing a top priority of the county's elected leaders.

We figured the other speakers would concentrate on data and numbers, so in typical AIM style, we thought my statement should include more of a personal take on the issue. The following is a copy of my statement to the press:
Good afternoon. My name is Russ Louch. I am one of the leaders of Action In Montgomery, AIM, and a member of its Strategy Team. AIM is a broad-based community organizing group, an organization of 31 religious institutions representing congregations of diverse ethnic, racial, economic and faith backgrounds from throughout Montgomery County. I am also a stay-at-home dad caring for two young children, and a native of Montgomery County.

The cost of housing comes up again and again as AIM leaders attend meetings and forums all over the county. We hear stories from hard working people in our congregations about how difficult it is to find decent housing that they can afford. Police officers, firefighters, teachers and the like who have to live in Howard or Frederick counties because they cannot afford to stay in the communities they serve.

I have been asked why I am personally concerned about the cost of housing. After all, my wife and I already own our home. I could say that I believe a diverse community, that includes people of all income levels, helps make our county stronger and more vibrant. But on a personal level, when I get right down to it, it's really all about my kids. My daughter, who is 5 years old, just started kindergarten and she just thinks the world of her teacher. She likes to come home from school and play school with her little brother. She, of course, assumes the role of the teacher. It's cute, but it also makes me wonder. If she actually becomes a teacher, will she be able to afford to live here in Montgomery County? Will she be able to stay near her parents? Four generations of my family currently live in Montgomery County. Will the fifth be able to as well?

Mr. Silverman has worked with AIM for years on various housing proposals including the expansion of the county's Housing Initiative Fund, now nearly $20 million a year, strengthening of the MPDU program, and AIM's proposal to build 1000 additional units of affordable and workforce housing in the next 4 years by identifying appropriate, excess public lands.

Today, AIM is pleased to support the workforce housing initiative proposed by County Councilmember Steve Silverman in this legislation. It is an important piece of the puzzle needed to fully address the housing issue. We applaud and recognize Mr. Silverman for his consistent leadership in this regard and stand ready to work with him, Councilmember Floreen and the other members of the County Council on this matter. Thank you.
The story was picked up by a number of local news organizations. Sadly, only WTOP Radio seems to have mentioned AIM at this point. This morning they were playing clips from the news conference and included a portion of my statement (about the "four generations of my family"). Other news coverage of the event included News Channel 8, the Washington Examiner and the Washington Post. I'm sure the Gazette will also carry the story (it's a weekly and doesn't hit newsstandsands until Wednesday). Also, Silverman issued this press release (PDF).

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